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Religious memes can hurt and help religion all at once

Published: Friday, Feb. 14 2014 9:34 a.m. MST

Elvis Presley impersonator preaching by a microphone in a church. Religion News Service published an article on Feb. 13 that looked at religious Internet memes and how they affect believers.

Digital Vision., Getty Images

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What happens when you mix religious jokes with Internet memes?

Well, the results are a little unpredictable.

Religion News Service published an article on Feb. 13 that looked at religious Internet memes and how they affect believers. RNS specifically looked at a Texas A&M University study that showed people might not be completely behind these memes — even though some of them spread knowledge about religion.

“This study shows how memes enable people to spread religious ideas, and at same time, critique religion,” said Ruth Tsuria, who was one of the authors of the study, to RNS.

Some of these memes — RNS gives the example of “Advice God,” which shows God as “harsh, unethical or suspicious” — are critical of religion, and some of it can be seen as mockery, RNS reported. Some religious memes poke fun at pop culture and use religious context to add to the comedy. Others reduce a religion to a one-sentence joke, leaving out many of the other details and beliefs, effectively generalizing the religion, RNS said.

“Memes using religious icons and people tend to spread generalized assumptions about religion through humor, often leaning on negative framings of religious values, practices and traditions,” RNS reported.

But religious jokes and jabs have inspired believers in the past, according to a Deseret News article. Jokes can help build an understanding of religion and tell others about certain aspects they might not know, the article said. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein told Deseret News that believers especially become stronger when they can hear a joke and let it roll of their shoulders.

“Every time a believer in anything is challenged and has to do more than draw back and open up to the challenge and face it and respond to it, then they do become stronger,” he said.

And Negin Farsad — a Muslim-American comedian who toured the country in the end of 2013 to spread comedy and knowledge about Muslims in the United States — said that people need to really discover whether a religious joke is meant to be harmful or not.

“What we should do as Americans? We should say, 'Is this material actually bigotry or is it satire?'” Farsad said. “It does feel like if more people did this, just on a small scale of knowing their neighbors, we would all be in better shape.”

Email: hscribner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @hscribner

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